MENU

Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

Kanye West Supported Trump and Enraged Many. He's Still Holding on to His Pop Audience.

Kanye's Ye proves America still cares about him. But does it mean Trumpism is a pop sensation?

Kanye West shook up many of his pop star colleagues and many fans by going very public on Twitter in April with enthusiastic support of President Donald Trump, symbolized by photos of West wearing a MAGA hat. West didn't say much about policy, merely that he loved his "brother" Trump and was attracted to his "Dragon energy", by which West seemed to mean his glamour, swagger, and power, the sheer unlikelihood of his bold rise to the presidency when everyone thought it was impossible at first.

Ye album coverYe album cover

The only part of that controversial tweetstorm that seemed to have any particular ideological edge was one reading merely that "I love the way Candace Owens thinks."

Owens is a black conservative YouTube celebrity who promotes the idea that blacks who complain about racism keeping them down are allowing themselves to be trapped on a Democratic Party/liberal plantation. Kanye has begun hanging out with her in public. Owens was present at the industry listening party for the release last week of his new EP Ye, and she seemed to be acting as his political spokeswoman.

Owens now sees the out-of-the-box huge public interest in Ye as a sign that the world is embracing freedom from anti-conservative political correctness, tweeting:

Kanye follows only three people on Twitter: his wife Kim Kardashian, Owens, and Parkland survivor and anti-gun activist Emma Gonzalez.

Gonzalez complicates the notion that wearing a MAGA hat means Kanye supports every policy of Trump or the Republican Party. It's a complication that West surely intends. After the controversy over his love for Trump broke, West rush-released a rough, revelatory debate track, "Ye v. the People," which was not included on Ye. On that track, West said he believes he's shifting the hermeneutics of MAGA: "Actually, wearin' the hat'll show people that we equal....Make America Great Again had a negative perception. I took it, wore it, rocked it, gave it a new direction/Added empathy, care and love and affection."

Owens is delighted that America's pop music audience still craves Kanye's music. The tweet she embedded had a link showing that within two days of its release, all seven of Ye's tracks topped the charts on both iTunes and Spotify. Billboard reports that this week Ye, like every West album after his debut, will be debuting at number one.

This means at the very least, as Owens tweeted, that Kanye has not lost much in the way of audience for daring to admire Trump. Ye will likely have a first week with 175,000 "album equivalent units" (AEU) compared to the 94,000 of his previous 2016 LP The Life of Pablo. Since Pablo's first official week on Billboard did not reflect the many hundreds of thousands of downloads he got on streaming service Tidal in the first two months of its release, West isn't nearly doubling his first-week audience from that album to Ye; his quarter million Tidal downloads in week one would have amounted to around 166,000 AEUs.

But Kanye's post-MAGA controversy clearly isn't diminishing public interest in his music in any noticeable way.

It's hard to be sure that Kanye has attracted a huge new audience of Trumpsters curious about this controversial pop icon who is now on their side, but it certainly seems likely he's attracted some at least.

What might people without a deep knowledge of Kanye be getting if Ye is their introduction? Is the man who rapped of himself in 2013's "I Am A God," "Soon as they like you, make 'em unlike you/'Cause kissing people's ass is so unlike you?" going out of his way to reach out to MAGA-ites?

Well, Ye begins with the unbelievably raw and admission-against-interest honest "I Thought About Killing You." In that track the always extraordinarily self-aware Kanye lets us, and the unnamed loved one he's speaking to/of, know that he had genuinely murderous thoughts about her. Further, although he loves her, he loves himself more (and he's thought of killing himself too, so that's no comfort).

West is consistently his own smartest commentator and critic. Here he's meta-intelligent enough to say out loud that he knows he ought to say something to ameliorate the harshness of that admission, perhaps vulnerably complaining that he has trouble loving himself. Alas, he admits that wouldn't be true.

The admission is there, first thing: He's a man with a dark and troubled mind, he refuses to seek sympathy for it, and he wants that to frame your understanding of everything that follows.

Nor does he do much explain what his MAGA love is all about, though in an album that he claims to have made entirely in the past month—and not finished until literally the day of release—he alludes to the controversy in various ways.

For example, in "All Mine," West drops Trump-era references to Stormy Daniels, using her in a perhaps Trump-defending way to say that even if he had a woman as great as Naomi Campbell he could still imagine himself wanting Stormy Daniels.

And in "Yikes," a song rooted in his shifting attitudes toward his own mental problems, he mentions going to North Korea as something wildly improbable he might do, analogous to getting together for a smoke with Wiz Khalifa with whom he's been publicly feuding (as have Trump and Kim Jong Un?).

The general sound and feel of Ye, even when touching on the sonic pleasures of old soul vocal pop, is generally hazy, dreamy, laid back and opiated in the same way his magnum opus My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy sounded coked up. Even what could be declarations of sunshiney joy like "Ghost Town"'s "nothing hurts anymore, I feel kinda free/We're still the kids we used to be" feel ironically fuzzed-out, more druggy than genuinely youthfully exuberant, even delivered by young guest rapper 070 Shake.

On the conservative tip, some Ye lyrics do touch on some classic pro-family themes. On "Wouldn't Leave," he praises his wife for choosing to stick with him even as his Trump-friendly public declarations apparently made her feel scared he was destroying their public image and eventually their fortune.

The last track, "Violent Crimes," is mostly about how a man who used to feel free to use and disrespect women changes once he has daughters (West has two). Such a man, Kanye says, starts seeing "women as something to nurture" and worries about how pervs on the internet will treat them, hoping they want to pursue piano and karate more than yoga and Pilates. That should appeal to a social movement that cheers images of men holding guns in front of their daughters and their dates.

The notion that Christian Americans in the Trump age get upset about propriety sexual or otherwise is outdated, so it's unlikely the frequent (but not as frequent as in the past) references to sex and drugs on the EP will turn off a MAGA audience. The closest Kanye gets to really trying to explain any of his MAGA turn, however, comes on "Wouldn't Leave." On that song, he notes that when he said "Slavery's a choice," people replied "Why Ye?" but "just imagine if they caught me on a wild day." In other words, he's saying that he can be out of line, that he knows it, and that his concerned fans should realize it could have been, and perhaps someday will be, worse.

A general sense he's aware he comes across as a loon suffuses the record. As "Ghost Town" puts it, "been trying to make you love me/but everything I try just takes you further from me." In "Wouldn't Leave" he grants that when he thinks he's being next-level futuristic he might just come across as an outmoded greedy bougie businessman: "You want me workin' on my messagin'/When I'm thinkin' like George Jetson/But soundin' like George Jefferson."

I'm pretty sure Candace Owens was wrong to believe that two months ago no one could be pro-Trump and top the pop charts. But it is undeniable that after Kanye, already a pop star with a very bad reputation as an arrogant loon, made himself famous for his somewhat vague support of Trump, he held his audience.

It is also true that Kanye continues on this record to be Kanye, a pop futurist and brilliantly self-revelatory writer working out his own issues and attitudes toward life and fame in public in irresistibly compelling ways that are definitely not designed to generate easy affection. For all his surface self-love, his writing has always shown a man haunted by demons; he doesn't want us to casually pat him on the head. He fights for the public's attention and love but he never makes it easy for himself or his listeners.

Kanye's ambiguity about his policy preferences is no more clear after this record. That lack of clarity continues to make it tricky to declare what his decision to go all in on Trump should mean to his fans—or what it means to him.

Trump for his part has already shown some signs of what Kanye means to him, believing the support of West and Kardashian is helping him with black voters and reports indicate they might influence a very much-deserved presidential pardon to Alice Johnson, a great-grandmother in jail for life on drug charges.

But the Trump controversy hasn't harmed West's ability to make an endlessly compelling record about what all his records are about: what it's like to be Kanye West.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Progressives are basically the new prudes--and that word needs to be brought back into heavy circulation.

    "Definition of prude
    : a person who is excessively or priggishly attentive to propriety or decorum"

    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/prude

    It used to be that certain people's work or views were unacceptable because there was something unacceptable about them: if he's gay, a drug addict, a communist, black, a felon, etc., then people can't be allowed to listen to his speeches, listen to his music, read his books, watch his films, etc., etc.

    The list of things that make people's work unacceptable is different now, but if progressives, social justice warriors, and snowflakes aren't "excessively or priggishly attentive to propriety or decorum", then what are they?

    The word of the day is "prude". The modern left is full of prudes.

  • sharmota4zeb||

    Harvard and Yale started as seminaries for prudes. The rest of academia gets trickle down morality from them. We've had the same system for generations to generate and enforce morals. Only the morals themselves change to prevent any communities from developing stable social mores that would allow them to ignore the preaching from on high.

  • sharmota4zeb||

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    Shoouldn't entertainment reviews be left to Kurt Loder?

  • perkins||

    for sure. I've yet to read a positive review of Ye. Except here.

  • a tandem||

    it isn't an entertainment review so much as it is a good discussion of social trends.

    During the election campaign, 11% of African America males and 13% of employed African American males approved of Trump. Today 22% of African American males and 31% of employed African American males approve of Trump.

    Kanye isn't perfect in every way but at least he is not a hypocrite like the entertainers (and entertainment press) on the left.

    In March in the big speeches by "march for your lives" we were treated to rapper Vic Mensa, who is treated like some kind of positive social force, say he was a gun owner, and dump on the NRA and insist on more gun control. Mensa has three gun arrest charges including a felony conviction. Apparently Mesna doesn't even know he is NOT a legal owner with that FELONY gun crime from less than a year ago on his record.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Should have brought Ed back to write this. He keeps posting about Kanye. You guys are shams.

  • Yellow Tony||

    Says the guy who bullied Ed off this site in not only this dimension but my original one too. I bet he blocked you on twitter too because of your repugnant acts.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    I didn't know what I got until it was gone...

  • Elias Fakaname||

    Will we say the sa,e for Shikha and Chapmam when they are finally gone?

  • Don't look at me.||

    Why do people care on shit about what singers think about politics?

  • Don't look at me.||

    one shit

  • JesseAz||

    A prominent black person being shunned by black leaders and others for the mere fact that he doesn't tow the DNC line... Yeah no story there.

  • rituviv||

    There really isn't.

  • perkins||

    It's one thing to not tow the DNC line. It's another to tow the GOP line. Black voter suppression is a specialty of the modern Republican part. Why would that be?

  • Azathoth!!||

    Black voter suppression is a specialty of the Democratic Party.

    FTFY

  • DenverJ||

    Oh please. I see black people driving all the time, which means it can't be that hard for black people to get an ID. On top of that, expanded polling times and mail in ballots make ot even easier for anyone to vote. So, basically, you're full of shit.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    Keep in mind that to your average Democratic 'voting rights activist', "voter suppression" really just means, "not making voting as convenient as humanly possible in places Democrats don't already control".

    They'll go after North Carolina for reducing early voting to just a month, and not care a fig about New York not having early voting AT ALL. Because the Democrats already control New York, so nothing could be wrong there, but they don't yet control North Carolina, so something is obviously broken in that state.

    I wish I were joking about this, but Democrats have pretty effectively taken over the 'voting rights' community, it's not much more than one more of the Democratic party's PR fronts anymore.

  • a tandem||

    Suggesting the US have the same basic identify proof to vote as Canada, Australia, Japan, England, Ireland, Holland, Belgium, France, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Spain, Italy, Greece, Switzerland and Austria is NOT "voter suppression."

    And the NCD is FREAKED that coming into office trump had 11% approvals among black males, and 13% approvals among employed black males, and has 22% and 31% approvals in those cohorts today

  • Carolinatarheel||

    This prominent black person has a right to his opinions! DemoncRATS have lowered the bar for ethical standards and telling the truth!

    America First!

  • Yellow Tony||

    Because people want to have their beliefs shared by those who they follow or possibly adulate.

  • Zeb||

    I don't know. I just find it amusing. Isn't that enough?

  • Rockabilly||

    67 Times Rappers Name Dropped "Donald Trump" In Their Songs

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-WhGgHjwZxU

    many love the trumps because of the gold and the gold diggers

  • Ken Shultz||

    Trump is The Lord of the Blings.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    Flavor Flav swivels his gaze on Ken Shultz from atop his dark tower and commands his Nazgul forth

  • a tandem||

    More likley to do with the latest polls showing that coming into office trump had 11% approvals among black males, and 13% approvals among employed black males, and has 22% and 31% approvals in those cohorts today.

    Or the Trump economy resulting in the highest employment rates of African Americans in 100 years.

  • Elias Fakaname||

    Trump has been down with the homies for decades. He is one badass mofo gangsta business guy. Big cars, big houses, and hot chicks. Which is what every rapper digs.

  • Hidebehindyourcause||

    There's probably some truth to that. But the MSM is gonna believe what they're gonna believe. Anyone that is a member of the Republican party is automatically branded a certain way.

  • lap83||

    That should appeal to a social movement that cheers images of men holding guns in front of their daughters and their dates.

    Are they cheering so much as reveling in the sort of pearl clutching that came from the article you linked to?
    I love all the crocodile tears about "her self agency!11" I wonder what percentage of those came from people who think the government should pay for her birth control and welfare/daycare if she became pregnant.

  • Incomprehensible Bitching||

    This is worse than that time he beat up Rihanna!

  • Agammamon||

    Is it because he's a gay fish?

  • rituviv||

    in his mouth!

  • Juice||

    Sheriff David Gabriel of Oglethorpe County, GA saw the story of the cop who hit a fleeing suspect with his car and spotted solid deputy material

    The Georgia police officer who was fired for hitting a fleeing suspect with his cop car on Saturday was out of work for just two days.

    Taylor Saulters, who was fired by Athens-Clarke County Police Department on Saturday for running down a suspect with his car, was hired by the neighboring Oglethorpe County Sheriff's Office on Monday.

    Oglethorpe County Sheriff David Gabriel announced the news on Facebook, saying, "I have known him since he was a baby and I know he will be a great asset to our county."

    Gabriel defended the hiring in the same post. He referred to the incident as "a fleeing felon struck his patrol car" and said he has "no reservations."
  • a tandem||

    And? so some cop ran over a violent felon.

    And yo had the DNC chairman lauding Leeland Yee in California and he turned out to be a major illegal guns trafficker. We had Vic Mensa applauded by a bunch of anti second amendment Democrats -- and it turns out Mensa has a felony conviction record for gun crimes.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    a fleeing felon struck his patrol car

    Weird how the cops didn't buy it when I told them the exact same thing about the fire hydrant that hit my front fender while I was driving past minding my own business.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    ^ meant as reply to Juice

  • Oli||

    Problem is, he's one of the best current musical pop artists, and a genre-defining one at that. But hey, we don't care (well, we do care, but not really in a meaningful way) about other celebs' IQs, drug habits, cheating etc., so why should it be the case with Kanye's political stance.

  • Zeb||

    I suppose it's up to you whether you care or not.

    I don't think it tells us anything useful about politics, but it's an interesting cultural phenomenon. And I don't even like Kanye.

  • John||

    See my post below Zeb. What makes it interesting is that if Kayne decides to become a Republican or even an independent and keeps his career and place in the black community, then it will be much harder for the black community to kick out other black people who do so. And that would be a very big deal.

  • Zeb||

    That's an interesting point. There are plenty of black conservatives, but not many that are "culturally black" (by which I mean the stereotypical hip-hop culture sort of thing) like Kanye. I like watching it because it messes with people's world views and assumptions. But I think you are right and it could mean a shift in how black people see politics and vote.

  • sharmota4zeb||

    Is the man who rapped of himself in 2013's "I Am A God," "Soon as they like you, make 'em unlike you/'Cause kissing people's ass is so unlike you?" going out of his way to reach out to MAGA-ites?


    Because welfare queens and the staff at non-profits don't kiss ass? Kissing ass is their business model. The charity workers apply for grants so they can hand out free stuff to the welfare queens they like.


    On the other hand, providing a product that customers like in exchange for patronage is a core part of capitalism.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    I have to admit that, when this controversy about him speaking positively about Trump first came up, my initial reaction was, "So, THAT'S who Weird Al was talking about in "Tacky"!"

    Hm, come to think of it, that's still my reaction. I think the last rap song I enjoyed was by Blondie.

    OK, on a serious level, (Although the above was perfectly true.) this has to be terrifying the Democratic party, given that they're reliant on getting Stalinist show election levels of support from Blacks to make up for their poor performance among whites. Even a modest shift towards Blacks voting Republican would hurt them badly.

    If I were West, I wouldn't be making any long term plans. He's now got a target painted on his back.

  • John||

    There are around 40 million or so black people in this country. As with any population that large, they come in all kinds. There are black rednecks, black scientists, black evangelical Christians, black Muslims, black business owners, black criminals, black soccer moms, black veterans, and every other kind of person imaginable. The fact that 90% of a group that diverse consistently votes for one party is the most absurd feature of American politics. The reason for this is that when a black person becomes a Republican, they are effectively kicked out of their own community. If blacks ever started voting like a normal racial group, they would still be largely Democrat but probably a fifth to a quarter of them would vote Republican. If that ever happened, the Democrats would cease to be competitive party on the national level. Had 20% of the black vote gone Republican, the Democrats would not have won a Presidential election since Johnson in 1964.

    So, when one of the most famous, rich, and powerful black men in America comes out for Trump, it is a big fucking deal. It is a big deal not because Kayne West individually changes much; he doesn't. It is a big deal because if Kayne West can do it and get away with it, other people will follow him. And that would be devastating to the Democratic Party.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    The fact that 90% of a group that diverse consistently votes for one party is the most absurd feature of American politics.

    That the most obvious targets of bigotry don't like to vote for bigotry (some Republicans are bigots, all other Republicans appease bigots) seems natural.

  • DenverJ||

    Of course, somebody who writes things like "some Republicans are bigots, all other Republicans appease bigots" isn't bigoted at all, huh? Fuck off, Arty.

  • a tandem||

    It s so interesting Arthur that you yourself make so man bigoted comments and don't even appreciate irony.

  • perkins||

    A more reasonable review.

    https://www.rollingstone.com/music/albumreviews/

    Review: Kanye West's Chaotic, Insecure 'Ye'
    Kanye West continues the most controversial period of his career with a wildly uneven 23-minute album

    "...Released five years almost to the day after his masterpiece, Yeezus, leaked and lit up the summer of 2013, Ye courts the comparison – it has half of Yeezus' title, half its running time and half its confidence. It isn't much of a musical experience, and it isn't meant to be – just another artifact in the never-ending saga of Kanye Agonistes."

  • a tandem||

    That rolling stone is so desperate it has to measure the length of the title in a critique is interesting. How is that a "reasonable review"?

  • gphx||

    If one were to ask older black athletes such as Mike Tyson why they support Trump their answers would include remembrances of it being legal not to allow black people to join golf clubs in Palm Springs until Donald Trump sued the city and got the law overturned. Trump was a civil rights warrior with nothing to gain who fought for his friends simply because it was the right thing to do.

    It's strange getting older and watching young people deny the world as you watched it unfold because they're too young to remember. It's even stranger when they call you a liar and racist for remembering.

  • a tandem||

    Indeed. And Trump was lauded by the NY an national business press for the fact that he had WAY higher ratios of minorities in middle and upper management than his sectors typically had. Bloomberg for example had lower than average ratios

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online